Gay prejudice still a problem in public services

ONE in six lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Scotland have experienced discrimination while accessing a public service in the past three years, according to a major survey to be launched tomorrow.

Many of those polled said they would be uncomfortable being open about their sexual orientation with NHS staff. Picture: PA
Many of those polled said they would be uncomfortable being open about their sexual orientation with NHS staff. Picture: PA

The YouGov poll of 1,000 people commissioned by Stonewall Scotland also discovered one in ten would expect to face discrimination from their GP, a quarter would expect to face discrimination from a housing officer and more than a third would not feel comfortable reporting a hate crime directly to the police.

Asked about their experiences, many highlighted instances of prejudice, such as their partner being turned away from their bedside in hospital, a disproportionate focus on sexual health issues and homophobic bullying in schools and colleges. In almost all areas, trans people experienced the greatest levels of discrimination, with one trans woman, who had sought help from the NHS after an injury, claiming to have been referred to as “it” throughout her time there.

The survey, published just weeks after the passing of the Equal Marriage Act secured legislative equality for LGBT people in Scotland, is being seen as evidence that, in practice, discrimination is still a problem. “This report sends a strong message that there is still lots to do before equality is meaningful for many citizens in 21st-century Scotland,” said Stonewall Scotland director Colin Macfarlane.

Conducted over an eight-month period, the YouGov poll looks at LGBT people’s experiences in health and social care, housing, policing, family life, post-16 education and the local community. Across the board, there were complaints about service providers making false assumptions about sexual orientation, not being geared up to deal with LGBT people (for example, lacking tick-boxes for civil partnerships) and failing to reflect the diversity of the population, as well as more direct discrimination and even, in some cases, abuse.

Asked about health, 22 per cent said they would feel uncomfortable being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity with NHS staff, while 41 per cent said they would expect to be discriminated against by staff at a residential home for older people.

Some LGBT people said their partner was not acknowledged or was even actively excluded from being involved in their care, while others talked of misconceptions regarding their medical needs, such as practice nurses claiming lesbians were not required to have smear tests. In particular, many of those questioned believed that being open about their sexual orientation led to an undue focus on sexual health issues which would not have applied to heterosexual patients.

“I was at my rheumatologist getting results for a test and my then partner was there. When he realised I was gay he began asking me about my sexual health testing. This was completely inappropriate because I imagine if straight people bring their partners to a doctor’s appointment, they’re not asked about STI testing,” said Jamie, 29.

Forty per cent of those who had used housing services felt that they didn’t provide enough information relevant to LGBT issues, while a third had encountered staff who made incorrect assumptions about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

When it came to policing, 42 per cent said they lacked confidence in Police Scotland’s ability to address homophobic and transphobic hate crime in their area. Amongst those who had reported hate crimes, there was a sense that they were not taken seriously. Some victims of verbal abuse claimed to have been told that nothing could be done unless a physical attack had taken place.

Some of those interviewed raised concerns around Police Scotland’s ability to improve community safety. One in five thought the creation of the new single Scottish police service would worsen contact with LGBT liaison officers, one in four believed local approaches to tackling hate crime would become less effective and one in five thought that police understanding of LGBT equality issues would deteriorate.

On family life, almost half said they would expect to encounter discrimination when it came to fostering and adoption, though there was a sense that things had improved over the last few years.

One in five said they would expect to face discrimination from a headteacher if they were enrolling their child in a primary or secondary school, and 80 per cent would expect to face discrimination if they enrolled their child in a faith school.

In higher education, the experiences of some of those interviewed suggested there was a widespread failure to tackle homophobic bullying. Almost one in four believed they would face discrimination from other students.

Expectations of college and university varied greatly between subject areas, with almost half expecting to experience discrimination in construction and engineering, and more than 44 per cent expecting discrimination when studying sports subjects.

Although public authorities have a key role in ensuring LGBT people feel part of their community, 80 per cent of those questioned had never been asked for their views on the services they use and pay for. One in eight reported a negative experience which they felt to be related to their sexual orientation or gender identity when accessing sport and leisure facilities, and one in six when using parks and open spaces.

Macfarlane said Stonewall was not accusing public service providers of being institutionally homophobic, but insisted more must be done to eradicate discrimination.

“After all this time and the introduction of the public sector equality duty, it’s disappointing that Scotland’s public services are still not delivering for LGBT people,” he said.

Macfarlane claimed some of what was wrong was easily remedied. “It could be as simple as putting a poster up in a waiting room or making sure the organisation’s literature represents all aspects of the community.

“Where there is direct discrimination, however, it’s about better training and communication. It’s about reinforcing messages from the top that public services should be accessible to all.”

Chief Inspector Ross Aitken, head of the national diversity unit at Police Scotland, said the force remained fully committed to tackling hate crime. “We appeal to anyone who is the victim of hate crime to report it – either directly to us or through one of our new third-party reporting centres. Police Scotland can assure anyone who may be in that position they will be taken seriously and treated with dignity and respect,” he said. “We are not complacent and acknowledge we need to continue to engage meaningfully with all communities to ensure they have the trust and confidence to report hate crime.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Everyone should have equal access to healthcare, and we want to ensure LGBT people have confidence to access health services and support. That is why we encourage health boards to train and raise awareness among staff on LGBT and equality issues.

“We also work closely with the Care Inspectorate to eliminate discrimination for people who use services and their carers through regulation and scrutiny of care services and community planning partnerships.

“In addition, we are providing funding of over £2.3 million (2012–15) to LGBT organisations and we continue to work with a wide range of organisations to promote equality of opportunity and inclusion for LGBT people.”

Prejudice: Fears over treatment


Almost one in ten (9 per cent) of LGBT people who had visited their GP in the past year rated their experience as poor or extremely poor (against just 2 per cent in the general population).

One in four (25 per cent) of LGBT people who have used NHS mental health services in the past year rated the service as “poor” or “extremely poor”.

One in six (17 per cent) of LGBT people who accessed accident and emergency services rated their experience as “poor” or “extremely poor”, compared with just over one in eight (12 per cent) of the general population.


More than a quarter (27 per cent) of LGBT people would expect to face discrimination from housing officers if applying for social housing. This rises to almost half (48 per cent) of transgender people. Two in five (40 per cent) of disabled LGBT people expect to experience discrimination from housing providers.

Prison service

Concern around policing is also reflected in expectations of the prison service. More than half (54 per cent) of LGBT people, including two-thirds (67 per cent) of transgender people, would be uncomfortable being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity in the Scottish Prison Service as either a prisoner or a visitor.

Family life

Two-thirds (67 per cent) of LGBT people think that their child would experience bullying in primary school if it were known they had LGBT parents. This expectation rises to three-quarters (76 per cent) if the child is in secondary school.

Post-16 education

More than half (54 per cent) of LGBT people think they would be discriminated against in construction and engineering modern apprenticeships, and almost a third (31 per cent) when applying for a youth work modern apprenticeship.